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Oak Ridge teen competes at national meet

Andrew Chou was the only Knoxville-area male teen to compete in the prestigious 2022 East Speedo Winter Junior Championships.
On Dec. 8-10, the Atomic City Aquatic Club watched with anticipation while teammate Andrew Chou competed at the 2022 East Speedo Winter Junior Championships in Greensboro, N.C., in a meet with more than 1,000 athletes competing.

He was the only male athlete from the greater Knox County area.

Chou is a sophomore at Oak Ridge High School. He started swimming at age 8 for ORCA and soon followed his older brother, Ethan, to ACAC where he has swum ever since.

He hasn’t always been fast, though.

“He didn’t break out and start to get fast until he turned 12,” said his mother, Kathryn Chou. “He went from not making Southeastern cuts when he was 11 to making several age group sectional cuts when he was 12. That was fun.”

“Quiet, sometimes shy, hard-working, positive and supportive” — These are words used to describe Andrew by teammates and coaches. One former teammate and summer league coach, Harper Houk, reminisced on what it was like swimming with him when Andrew first joined the senior group on the team. “He would just go for it. ... He never complained. When you’re 13 and you have to swim against 17- and 18-year-olds, you have an easy excuse. [Andrew] would train hard every day, would beat a lot of the older guys and girls, and just wouldn’t complain.”

The Junior Nationals was a very different experience from previous meets. The fastest swimmers east of the Mississippi were there, including world champion Summer McIntosh. This put things into a new perspective and brought with it a lot of excitement and nerves.

Chou’s first event was the 200 individual medley.

He and his coach had been trying to get some really good cycle rates and maintain those during practice, knowing that cycle rate leads to speed. In the 200 IM, this went really well. In the first quarter of the race, the heat was close. In the backstroke portion of the race, Chou took the lead by a full body length.

He maintained that lead through the breaststroke and only gave up a bit of his lead in the final leg, the freestyle. He finished the heat in first, setting a new personal record of 1:51.08, nearly a five second improvement.

With the next event, the 400 IM, he started strong in the first 200 meters of the race, but was unable to maintain the needed energy in the last half. He finished the race in 4:05.40, a 2.87 second add on his best time of 4:02.53.

With another race the same day as the 400, Coach Franklin was worried about Andrew’s energy. They got some food in him and took some time to refocus. This led to positive results in Andrew’s 100 Back.

Andrew was able to pull off another personal record by more than 2.5 seconds when he finished the 100 Back in just 49.69 seconds.

This broke an Atomic City Aquatic Club record that had been held for more than 25 years by B. Owens.

Chou’s final race was the 200 Back. He was able to finish it just over his previous best time. He added only .08 seconds when he finished the race in 1:49.35.

Meanwhile, his team back home took a break from practice to watch the livestream of his swim.

Chou celebrated his swims with Chick-fil-A meal and a milkshake.